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Mar 19, 2007 09:47 AM

Cento Tomatoes -- help!

On the grocery shelf, Cento has three different types of peeled Italian tomatoes: Italian Tomatoes, Italian STYLE Tomatoes, and San Marzano Tomatoes. Are there different uses for these three similar products? Which is best for a homemade pasta sauce?

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  1. Italian tomatos are generally "plum tomatos" which you see in the fresh produce and are oval and are about 2-3 inches long. THe plum tomatoes used to be the choice for making sauce or "gravy" ... until recent years. San Marzano have become more widely available and they are the supreme tomato of choice for making gravy or sauce. You can simmer these down for 2 hours with garlic and evoo and it is fresh and delicious tasting. The "SanMarz" has a different balance and acidity which I can only describle as being the difference between vinegar and balsamic vinegar. Vinegar would never be appealing on its own on salad, but balsamic is. And, Italian-style tomatos are the canned prep. tomatos that would contain some Italian seasoning such as bay or basil, onion, salt, or similar. So, to summarize on choices for sauce, always go with San Marzano first; if you can't get that; go with Italian Tomatoes (or plum). Last choice would be Italian Style (the additions of herbs or condiments throws off my own method and recipe for making sauce. I

    1. If "Italian Style" does include flavoring, pass it by. The plain"Italian" tomatoes are usually from a more commercial variety of plum tomato packed in puree, and are the baseline imported product. If the San Marzano can is stamped with a "DOP" seal then they contain the san marzano variety ("plum" broadly defines shape, but not variety) from the designated growing area near Nocera, Angri, and San Marzano in the province of Salerno. If you're making a long-cooked meat gravy, then the plain Italian varieties should be fine, if cost is an issue; anything simpler or fresher--a marinara or pizzaiolo, say-- would greatly repay using the unique and supremely tasy real San Marzanos.

      1. I have seen Cento products labeled Italian tomatoes are from other countries (Brazil iirc), so you have to look at the fine print to see country of origin.

        1 Reply
        1. re: coconutz

          The cans labeled "Italian Peeled Tomatoes" and "San Marzano Tomatoes" both say "Imported Product of Italy." The Cento San Marzanos are considerably less expensive than some of the other brands of imported San Marzanos.

        2. It is really confusing! My DH went to the market for me, and got the wrong thing....twice. The labeling on these products is so misleading, unless you are a super detective, it is almost impossible.

          The best tomatoes, and the only ones I ever use are the San Marzano imported from Italy. It must say "San Marzano" on the can. The others aren't worth using.

          12 Replies
          1. re: Fleur

            but be careful; the lovely cans (white with red drawings of tomatoes) that prominently say "San Marzano" and have lots of italian language all over the can, are grown in California:

            1. re: DGresh

              What would be wrong with tomatoes grown in California? They grow fabulous produce and could easily grow the same variety of tomato plants.

              1. re: MakingSense

                San Marzano DOP tomatoes are grown in a very particular region in italy in volcanic soil which gives them their unique flavor. I'm not trying to be flippant, but you could say what difference does it make where you grow those particular kinds of grapes for wine, but of course the soil/climate/etc. does make a difference.

                1. re: DGresh

                  Volcanic rock is inert and you can only grow crops on it after it has been broken down and amended with substantial organic matter. The tomato draws nothing from it. Tomatoes can only be grown in the same beds for about three years before the beds have to be rotated. Tomatoes can even be grown hydoponically. This is unlike viniculture where grapes can grow in the same place for years. Varieties that grow in France and Italy are also grown very successfully in California, Oregon and Australia. and now in China's new wine industry.
                  Heirloon San Marzano seed (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) can be planted at the same latitude and altitude in the US or other places. Northern California is at the same latitude as the region of Italy where the DOP tomatoes are grown so there is no reason why at the same altitude they could not receive the identical daylight, heat, rainfall, organic soil composition, etc. to produce a virtually indistinguishable tomato.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Not to quibble, but my f-i-l, a graduate degreed horticulturist who worked as an agricultural extension agent for 40+ years, used the exact same spot for his tomato patch for 27 years with no disease problems (though he was a better-living-through-chemistry farmer of the old school). I garden organically, and my tomato beds are on their 7th season without significant problems. And, though he & I lived just 5 blocks apart, his tomatoes were always slightly sweeter & lower in acid than mine (same varieties). I think soil composition/trace minerals/micronutrients definitely impact tomato quality.

                    1. re: Hungry Celeste

                      I tend to ignore the advice as well even though I know people who have had problems. I generally add so much new organic matter to my precious tomato beds every year that they're probably new soil by every third or fourth year anyway. The soil is important whether you're in Italy or not. Last year, I raised the beds and the crop was even better.
                      I usually can enough to get through the winter and still have plenty to give away.

              2. re: DGresh

                vs these actual grown in Italy San Marzano tomatoes (which I have yet to try). I have tried the can DGresh referred to (4 cans for $5.00 at Whole Foods) and they are definitely better than others - although I'm sure not as good as real San Marzano.



                1. re: DGresh

                  I DID notice that -- but only after it was pointed out on a previous posting. It's like calling a California sparkling wine Champagne.

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    But there are California sparkling wines of much higher quality than some low end Champagnes that are entitled to that designation simply by virtue of having been produced in a particular geographic region in France.
                    Just because the tomatoes are from Italy or California doesn't predict high or low quality. And in the hands of a good cook, it might not make that much difference depending on the dish. They aren't magic bullets.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      I agree with you. And I wasn't implying anything negative about California sparkling wines. I only meant that just as Champagne is produced only in a particular region of France, so San Marzano tomatoes ought to refer to tomatoes grown in a particular region of Italy. Either that, or label them correctly, i.e., "California San Marzano tomatoes."

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        It's not a question of what it "ought to refer to" but what a San Marzano actually is. There are several varieties of Heirloom San Marzanos - SM I, II, Bush, Redota, Super VFNT, just to name a few, and they can be grown in Italy or your own back yard. They are all plum tomatoes as are the plain old Romas that will start showing up in your garden center soon; Romas are slightly less meatier than SMs.
                        Serious vegetable gardeners know the differences and choose one over the other but it wouldn't make much difference at the consumer level.
                        "Champagne" can be produced in many areas of France including 50 m. across the line from Champagne Province, but once it's outside that Province you just can't call it that. Great marketing!
                        Same with DOP designation for San Marzano tomatoes which many think are impossible to grow outside of that small area in Italy. They can be grown in a much wider area of Italy and grow well in some areas of the US. They're still San Marzanos, just not DOP. Some of the Italian DOP product isn't top grade either but can get by on perception.
                        Like any purchase, you have to do your homework. Often a great product can be had for a lot less money.

                2. re: Fleur

                  [quote]The best tomatoes, and the only ones I ever use are the San Marzano imported from Italy. It must say "San Marzano" on the can. The others aren't worth using.[/quote]

                  Um .. you DO realize that: a) the phrase "imported from Italy" specifies where the tomatoes were processed, NOT necessarily the tomatoes were grown; and b) some companies incorporate "San Marzano" into their brand name, e.g. "San Marzano Imports," La Bella San Marzano cherry tomatoes, , don't you?

                3. Here's a description of most/all of the tomato products in Cento's line. http://www.fineproductsinternational.... Click on the can to see what each includes. Some are grown in Italy, some are grown in the US. They are all plum tomatoes, some of the variety referred to as San Marzano, others of other plum varieties such as Roma, which are generally called "Italian style" and are the meaty tomatoes used for cooking as opposed to those grown for salads and eating fresh, which have a higher water content.
                  They vary in price so you can make your decision based on how you'll use them. You may not need the highest quality for soup or chili but may want that for a simple marinara. It's up to you.
                  Cento makes good quality products at a variety of price points and you should be able to find several that should please you and your budget for different uses. I buy them often and have always been happy with them.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: MakingSense

                    I use La Bella San Marzano italian peeled tomatoes, labeled product of Italy. They contain peeled italian plum tomatoes, tomato puree, basil leaf, citric acid, and salt. These are very good. I also use Antic Italia peeled whole tomatoes also San Marzano. This brand contain the same ingredients as the La Bella. They are also very good. About $2.15 for a 28 oz. can here in Myrtle Beach, SC where I live.

                    If you hounds know of any that are any better, I like like to here. I use them for mostly sauces.

                    1. re: Stack8

                      I don't have access to a Whole Foods. Does anyone know of a good nationally available San Marzano or other canned plum tomato that isn't salted?

                      1. re: bossanova

                        I like the Muir Glen Organic Whole Peeled Plum Tomatoes for Italian sauces. I can usually find them at my local Safeway.

                        1. re: bossanova

                          I've found it at Shoppers Food Warehouse and at the military commissary. It's not with other canned tomatoes but in the gourmet or health food aisles.

                        2. re: Stack8

                          "La Bella San Marzano" is a brand name, not an indicator of the variety of tomatoes used in the product. The importer, "San Marzano Imports" is very coy about whether or not "La Bella San Marzano" brand products actually contain San Marzano varietal tomatoes. (See, e.g., replies #15 and 17 in this thread on


                          That said, the Italian Plum Tomatoes are very good, though I prefer Escalon 6-in-1 to La Bella. (The 6-in-1 is cheaper, too.)

                        3. re: MakingSense

                          You can tell what kinds they are by the price points. I think the San Marzano are about twice the price of the plum tomatoes.